Bread and Circus (and sugar)

Posted by Robert on August 2nd, 2016

I started a diet a few months ago. The two main offenders I gave up were bread and sugar.

It seems to me that those two items— bread and sugar— are toxic to my system and are the primary reasons for weight gain now that my middle-aged metabolism has slowed to that of a sloth. These days just looking at a piece of bread can add five pounds to my ever-expanding waistline.

The diet has gone ok. Though there are two things that are sorely missed— bread and sugar.

I love bread. Seriously, I really, really love bread. I truly do. Quick, think of the inanimate object you love most. OK, now multiply that by 100. That’s how much I love bread.

I don’t love sugar like I love bread. I just love the things that sugar is “in.” It’s not necessarily even sweet, sugary things, but food items that convert to sugar inside my body like corn and potatoes.

Who starts a diet excluding corn in June? An idiot, that’s who, and I am that idiot. Sweet corn season came and went and I barely noticed.

I was supposed to lay off of potatoes, but that’s just silly. Potatoes are one of God’s little gifts to the culinary world. They are cheap, they are versatile, they are starchy, and they taste really good.

Back to bread. In the book of Matthew, Jesus said, “Man cannot live by bread alone.” Now, I won’t proselytize here, and I know what He was referring to in that passage, and I understand it wasn’t a literal interpretation. But stay with me for a minute, I think I could really live on bread alone— at least for a year.

That was a discussion topic at our family dinner table a few weeks ago, “If you could only eat one food item every meal for an entire year, what would it be?” At least on the heels of this most recent diet, I think my choice would be bread.

Good bread, mind you. I’m not talking about 365 days of mass produced white bread. But give me a good ciabatta, foccacia or French loaf, and I think I could eat that every day for the next 52 weeks— especially if I had butter and salt.

Columns like this disturb my doctor. I went in for my annual check up last week. He walked into the room and noticed the button I always wear on my left chest which reads “Eat Local.” He took one look at me, then looked at the button, and said, “That’s exactly what I was about to tell you to do—‘Eat Low Cal.’” He’s a funny doctor.

This is the same guy who, on a previous visit, while viewing my chart, told me, “It says here that you are too short for your weight. You’re either going to have to grow nine inches in height, or drop some pounds.”

Back to bread and sugar: It is a known fact, and I prove it to myself every year or so, that broccoli and cauliflower don’t taste as good as donuts. It is also a St. John Dietary Truth that I never want to eat donuts unless I am dieting and am not allowed to eat donuts.

Sitting at my desk last week I started ranking my favorite breads— because that’s what one does when he’s been deprived of flour and yeast for eight weeks (whole grain wheat— which I love— is not included on this list because that is what I have been eating on this diet).

5.) Focaccia— We bake focaccia fresh every morning and evening at our Italian restaurant. This is what I was eating when I first had the thought— I might be able to live on bread, alone.

4.) Seeded Rye— This might be the most underrated sandwich bread on the planet. There aren’t too many savory sandwiches that aren’t made better with rye bread. The rye-ier (my word), the better.

3.) Ciabatta— We bake this fresh every morning and evening at the Purple Parrot. When it’s warm and the butter melts so fast that it can barely be spread, it’s another level of gluten heaven.

2.) French Bread— If one can reach gluten heaven by eating ciabatta, a self-actualized nirvana is just around the corner with a warm loaf of French bread. I have embarrassed myself too many times by asking for seconds, thirds, and fourths of warm French bread at New Orleans restaurants. Between food in France and food in Italy, I will always choose Italy. But when it comes to bread, the French win out every time. In Tuscany, they don’t add salt to their bread. I have never understood that and usually salt my olive oil when eating there.

1.) Croissant— This is what all bread wants to be when it grows up. It’s the top of the food chain and the pinnacle of wheat realization. Had Maslow studied food, this would have been the highest level of what a foodstuff could become.

Who can argue with 81 light, flaky layers of buttery awesomeness? As a younger— more foolish— man, I used to add butter and fruit preserves to croissants. I cringed a little writing the previous sentence. The only time butter and fruit are needed is with frozen or pre-baked croissants, and one should NEVER eat frozen or commercially pre-baked croissants. EVER. Pardon me while I repeat the preceding sentence: One should NEVER eat frozen or commercially pre-baked croissants. Ever.  Seriously, you are better off going with any other bread option. Croissants should be eaten in a bakery that makes them from scratch that morning. Nothing is needed. Nothing. I am blessed to work across the street from a place that makes fresh croissants every morning. As a matter of fact, I am declaring this a “cheat day” and walking across the street right now to eat a freshly baked croissant.


Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding

12 ounces  chocolate chips, divided

6 egg yolks

2 eggs

1/2  cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/4 cups cream

1/2  cup milk

1/8 tsp salt

6 croissants


Lightly butter an 8 1/4”x 8 1/2”x 2 1’2” Ceramic Baking Dish

Place half of the chocolate chips in a double boiler. Heat the vanilla, cream and milk with half the sugar and pour over melted chocolate. Combine the other half of the sugar with the eggs and yolks and whip until light and fluffy. Temper the hot chocolate mixture slowly into egg mixture. Cut the croissants in half. Submerge the bottom halves of the croissants into the custard mixture and soak for 10 minutes. Gently remove them from the custard, and cover the bottom of the baking dish with the soaked croissant halves. Sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips over the soaked croissants. Soak the tops of the croissants in the remaining custard mixture for 10 minutes. Gently remove them from the custard and arrange them atop the chocolate chips. Pour and remaining custard over the croissants. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

Remove the prepared bread pudding from the refrigerator one hour before baking. Press the croissant down to make sure all of the custard has been absorbed into the croissants. Cover the bread pudding with a sheet of wax paper, followed by a sheet of aluminum foil.

Place the covered baking dish in a large roasting pan, and fill the pan with hot water so that it comes 1 1/2 inches up the sides of the baking dish.

Bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and wax paper cover and bake for 20-30 more minutes, the bread pudding should jiggle slightly, but have no liquid custard remaining.

Remove from the oven and allow the bread pudding to rest for 30 minutes before serving.

Place a small pool of the bourbon crème anglaise on each serving dish. Cut the bread pudding into 6-8 portions and place each piece in the center of the crème anglaise, serve immediately.

Yield: 6-8 servings


Bourbon Crème Anglaise

1 cup cream

1/2 cup half and half

1/4 cup bourbon

3/4 cup sugar, divided

4 egg yolks

1 tsp vanilla extract

In a stainless steel pot bring the cream, half and half, bourbon, vanilla and half of the sugar to a simmer. While it is heating, combine the yolks and remaining sugar in a mixing bowl and whip until light in color.

Slowly add the hot cream mixture into to yolks while stirring constantly. Return the mixture to the pot and cook over a low-medium flame stirring constantly. Cook until the mixture becomes thick enough to coat a spoon or spatula.

Remove from the heat and cool down in an ice bath.

Yield: 8 servings



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